FORGET neatly trimmed hedges, tidy rows of begonias and well-tended lawns. An increasing number of 21st century growers in Scotland claim it's time to rebel against the short back and sides approach traditionally taken to front gardening in towns and cities and start making use of them as practical – but beautiful – allotments for growing fruit and veg.

With growing space at a premium – especially in cities – and waiting lists of nearly ten years for allotments in Glasgow and Edinburgh, there is a growing trend to turn front gardens into "quirky and fun" allotments allowing keen gardeners to grow edible plants that look good and feed the family.

Mat Coward, an independent garden writer whose new book is titled Eat Your Front Garden, said that it was time to throw off the "bourgeois" credentials of tidiness and conformity. While front garden vegetable growing might trigger images of the Good Life – the 1970s BBC sitcom about Tom and Barbara Good's attempt at self-sufficiency – or bring to mind Second World War Dig for Victory campaigns, Coward said he and others were advocating a modern approach to making the best use of available growing space.

"The idea of “respectable” changes with every generation," said Coward. "Perhaps your grandparents would walk by a front garden of millimetre-trimmed, bright green lawn, surrounded by precisely equidistant bedding plants, and nod with approval. You on the other hand might walk by a front garden clearly arranged to attract bees and birds, and similarly feel 'this householder adheres to the current consensus view of good values'."

He claimed that a combination of our society's reliance on cars, combined with austerity policies forcing longer working hours meant many time-poor families opted to pave their front gardens as a low maintenance option. Coward said there was a growing feeling that growing you own fruit and veg in your front garden was a "small way of repairing the environment".

There is, however, a worry that turning your front garden into an allotment might upset neighbours and make growers the talk of the street if a potato patch suddenly appeared where a lawn once was. However, Coward said: "My book puts forward the idea of the 'Invisible Allotment'." He has collected a list of more than 30 plants which can be grown for food which don't look like crops, including Caucasian spinach and bamboo. "Sometimes they are edibles in their countries of origin which we’ve adopted as ornamentals, some of them are traditionally used as edibles, but you wouldn’t know it by looking. My main criterion is that these are plants you can grow openly out front without anyone raising an eyebrow."

He claimed other reasons for not wanting your front garden to look like an allotment include fear that your produce will be pinched and being forbidden to grow vegetables by landlords if renting. "It fools both the busybodies and the burglars," he added.

Abi Mordin, founder and director of Propagate, a Glasgow-based growers collective, said:"It's quirky and it's fun. It's amazing what you can grow in a small space especially if you use permaculture methods such as polycultures [where you grow multiple crops in the same space] rather than growing in traditional rows." Other techniques to make the most of a small space include stacking up raised beds or containers or creating "micro forest" gardens, which ape the conditions provided by forest "layers".

She admitted that while front garden growing did not provide enough space for people to be self-sufficient – it is estimated about an acre is needed – it could make grow-your-own more visible and popularise the trend. "Most people in the workshops that I run have no ideas what you can grow in this country, which is considerable. So at the very least this opens people's eyes to what is possible."

Paula McCabe, urban grower at the Concrete Garden, a community garden in Possil in Glasgow, claimed she had seen a huge increase in enthusiasm for garden growing through the projects she runs. She said: "Most people who come along tell us it has a real impact on their wellbeing. People make new friends, get fresh air, fresh produce, exercise, connection to nature, new skills, knowledge and confidence. It's so therapeutic for so many reasons.

"Whilst there's so much that can be done in small urban spaces it can be hard to know where to start and people can be put off by the idea that it will take a big investment of time or money. Sometimes all people need is a little inspiration and guidance. We run a short course about container gardening in small spaces and on a budget to help folk turn unlikely spaces into attractive and productive growing spaces.

"It's absolutely possible to use the unlikeliest of spaces for food growing. All you need is an area that gets some sunlight and something to grow in."

She advised using raised beds and containers to make sure of good quality compost and topsoil, with simple "crops" like 'cut and come again' salad leaves perfect for window boxes. Veg crates can be repurposed to grow leafy greens and baby veg such as carrots, beetroot or turnip, she added, while using trellis to grow peas and beans vertically also helps make the most of a very small space. However she and others warned against gardening near a busy road. "It would be wise to have a barrier from pollution," she added.


Here are Mat Coward's tips for plants for your front garden allotment that won't have the curtains twitching.

1. Chinese yam: with large, nutritious tubers it also produces scented flowers which give it the alternative common name of Cinnamon Vine.

2. Sunflower: the buds can be steamed and served with butter, like artichokes.

3. Bamboo: get a variety bred specially for production of bamboo shoots, as seen in Chinese takeaways, which are also amongst the most ornamental bamboos.

4. Caucasian spinach: used as an ornamental climber in the 19th century, now becoming better known for its edible greens and spring shoots.

5. Fuchsia: the epitome of front garden respectability but with juicy, sweet fruits and edible flowers.


1. Window boxes filled with strawberries can look pretty and a provide summer fruit on the cheap. Ask community gardens if they have plants to spare.

2. Create a kitchen garden by growing fruit and veg together in raised or stacked beds. Edible flowers like Calendula and Nasturtiums look pretty and are a natural pest deterrent.

3. Make a herb spiral - it's an efficient way to grow lots of herbs in a small space and creates an attractive visual feature.

4. If you've got the space fruit trees like plums are a great option for combining good looks with practicality.

5. Plant bee friendly flowers like lavender and buddleia to attract wildlife to your garden and help pollinate fruit.


NEW guidance due to be published in coming weeks will put a duty on local authorities to make better provision for growing spaces including allotments as part of the Community Empowerment Act, according to campaigners.

Campaigner Judy Wilkinson, a member of both the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society and the Glasgow Allotments Forum, said that with waits of up to almost a decade on the most desirable allotments, the guidance was welcome news for those demanding improved access to growing spaces.

Under the guidance, which has yet to be enacted, local authorities will have to ensure waiting lists on allotments are no longer than five years and do not exceed 50 percent of the number of available plots. It is claimed that better use could be made of derelict land in urban areas to help meet demand for community growing spaces.

"The Community Empowerment Act will hopefully put pressure on local authorities [to improve access]," said Wilkinson. "It's going to be important for us to work in partnership with local authorities.

"Allotments are holistic growing space. They are about growing food but also about health and well being. It can be an escape place, it's about the individual, about family and about community. Lots of community gardeners spend a lot of their time there particularly in the summer and spring months."

She also said the change would help those in flats and high rises who don't have gardens.

But Abi Mordin, founder and director of community growing organisation Propagate, claimed that it was necessary to do more than simply increase access to allotments in order to tackle the need for a local and sustainable growing strategy.

She is currently working with 25 local growers who are hoping to make use of the Community Empowerment Act to create urban market garden plots on derelict land in Glasgow. Propagate has already identified 15 local cafes and businesses keen to make use of their produce. "It ties in with land reform and asset transfer," she added. "It also feeds in to the national movement of [creating] sustainable food cities. We are working collectively with local communities to create local economies."